I believe that no one has the right to define me but me.
I had always considered myself pretty unaffected by societal views of things especially when it came to issues of race. I was raised in a multicultural household, so “difference,” to me, was the norm. It never mattered to me that other people might think differently of me than I thought of myself. At least I thought it didn’t matter to me.
Until one day, when I was fourteen years old. I was attending a diversity leadership conference for teens all across the country in Miami, with a couple of teachers, my Dad, and a group of kids from my high school. The conference was three or four days long, and on this particular day we were participating in an activity that challenged people to consider the concept of “identity”. Everyone stood in a circle, and a leader would speak the phrase, “Step into the circle if you identify as being [insert race, nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc. here].” Then you would step into the circle if it you felt it applied to you, and the leader would speak again, “Look at the people inside of the circle, look at the people outside of the circle. How does it make you feel to be where you are?” And they would move on.
My mom is Caucasian and my dad is African American so I identify myself as being both of those. And it always bothers me how people, because of the color of my skin, identify me as being only Black— like the other part of me doesn’t exist. But I disagree. That’s part of me, but it’s not all of me. I want people to realize that I’m just as much one as I am the other.
So why is it that when the leader said, “If you identify yourself as being Black step into the circle,” I stepped in, but when he said “White” I didn’t?
I was afraid of what people would think of me. I was afraid they would whisper, “What is she doing in there?” and give me funny looks. Because although I may identify myself that way, it’s not what society has told me is right.
Three years later, I still kick myself for not stepping into the circle that day. It bothers me to think that I was not a strong enough person to step into the circle and say, “This is me, whether you think so or not.”
I am what I see in the mirror every morning while I brush my teeth. I am Black, and I am White. I am Irish, I am Swedish, I am German, I am Native American, and I am African American. I am what I know of myself, not what others think they know of me. And that’s how I’m going to stay.
This, I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.